LETTERS FROM DIASPORA: #2

January 22, 2017

My Sweet Girl,

I woke up yesterday not sure if I wanted to go to the Women’s March or not. It wasn’t that I didn’t support the movement and the different women who were making a commitment to go. I think it might have just been complacency, you know? Just the apathy that so overwhelms me as a privileged person--that gives me the luxury to think I can stay home. The only reason I wanted to go in the beginning, I’ll be honest, sweet pea, was for you. I thought, how could I ever face my daughter if she read about the women’s march in a history book and when she asked me what I was doing then all I could say was, “well, it was a Saturday, and I had stuff to do.” I didn’t have stuff to do, though. So, I went, all the while reminding myself that this was me fulfilling that tradition of the messenger, alayhi alsalatu walsalam, to speak truth to power, that I was fulfilling the requirement of a higher level of faith he was talking about when he said

من رأى منكم منكرا فليغيره بيده ، فإن لم يستطع فبلسانه ، فإن لم يستطع فبقلبه ، وذلك أضعف الإيمان 

 This wasn’t even a high level of faith; I was really being pretty basic in my standing up to injustice. I was challenging injustice with my voice, but I’m thinking now, as I write this to you, that my heart doesn’t even truly hate this injustice, if I did, I wouldn’t have had to question whether or not I wanted to go. Apathy is killing me, my darling, and I am not quite sure what to do about that. the other day, when the young women I lead a halaqa for asked me what they could do about the apathy in their own hearts, I didn’t know what to tell them.

I don’t know what to do about the apathy in my own heart. Are you going through this or are you too young still? I want my heart to break, my love, but I have felt nothing like heart break in so long. These odd waves of sadness overcome me once every month, every two months, but they aren’t heart break. No, heart break, and a true violent explosion of emotions that shake me to my core and make me feel human again—I haven’t felt that since jiddo passed away. At least, that’s what I can remember. And that was a little over two years ago.

One of the scholars says that a heart that is incapable of feeling sadness is like an abandoned home. I cannot feel my heart, and I want to cry at the loss of it.  

I remember reading a sign at the march that said “the price of apathy is to be ruled by evil men.” It is slightly altered version of something that the philosopher Plato said and it is very true.

I think it is my apathy that has kept me from sending out the essays I have written about trump and islamophobia and all of these emotions and things I don’t like to talk about. I’m not quite sure why, since white women talk about these issues all the time—and I think I have a little more to talk about. But I don’t know, if it’s me being disillusioned or if it’s me being apathetic—that I don’t have the strength of emotion that they do. I remember the day after he won, I went to class, and all of my colleagues were upset, I mean some of them had bags under their eyes and they were telling me about how they were crying when they were watching the news on the night he won. I went to sleep when they were still counting the votes, I didn’t even think twice about the fact that he might win. I didn’t think America would be that honest with itself, or that stupid. I was a mixture of emotions—I was both so aware of the wretchedness that is the heart of America, and the systematic injustice against people of color, and against our people in other parts of the world. But I figured Americans would just vote to keep the status quo, would just vote for Hillary. The status quo with another x chromosome. But that was a fail. And when they told me they were crying, I didn’t really know how to react. I felt bad, and I felt a part of their shock. And I felt a little scared too, because it was a fact now, that many more people in my country hated me than I was willing to believe. I knew the majority hated a lot of us, that the majority were ignorant, that the majority had a specific idea of what a “good” Muslim was; I knew the majority subscribed to the “War on Terror”. But I didn’t think this many people hated even the idea of me.

I wonder if this is the same America that you know. I wonder where we live, if you live here, or if you just came here to study—if America has just gotten worse, if you’re not even allowed in here. I don’t know. But, let me tell you about the women’s march yesterday.

Donald trump was inaugurated on the 20th, and yesterday, the 21st, there were over 67 marches worldwide protesting hiss inauguration and a whole host of other issues. According to estimates, there were over 2 million people protesting across the united states.

It was the largest march in American history—if you consider the numbers in all of the major cities that held marches. I went alone, because I had only decided last minute that I was going, I didn’t have a sign or anything made. (here is suggestion number one for truly living the moment, sweetie, decide early, and surround yourself with people to get excited with.) I went to a sister march in New York—if you were born, we would have totally made this a family affair and gone together to DC. I saw maybe three identifiably Muslim women, and many other women of color, but the majority I paid attention to were young and white. I don’t know if this is just a function of the group I had caught up with, or that many women of color were working at the time I went or that I am remembering incorrectly.

Everyone was smiling at me, very sincerely and very kindly, but I felt strange. I felt like they were smiling at me because I was wearing a hijab, because I was their token Muslim, their token woman of color, their “hey I was nice to a Muslim today” story. I swear, my dear, I do not doubt their hearts, but I was never smiled at so many times in the streets that I felt a little out of place, a little confused, and a little disheartened. I felt like they were smiling at the idea of me, and not me. that if my Muslimness posed a threat to their privilege they wouldn’t smile. That if they knew I was an Islamist they wouldn’t smile, that if they knew I wanted the capitalist system to deteriorate, they wouldn’t smile, that if they knew I was not “with her” they wouldn’t smile, that if they knew I did not subscribe to the “war on terror”, they wouldn’t smile, that if they knew how I felt about Palestine and Israel they wouldn’t smile. I felt they were all Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—feminists until they withdrew their support of the black cause to secure the white woman’s vote.

Hasaythum ma bihibuni la-thati, bas bihibu fikrit inhum mutaqadimeen wu munfatiheen.

Darling girl, I don’t want to be a receptacle for smiles and a way for people to pat themselves on the back for being open and liberal and whatever they think they are.

I’m not that. I’m not a “good” “moderate” Muslim—whatever the hell that means. I’m not okay with the status quo, and I never was “with her.”

Hillary Clinton tweeted a thank you to the marchers yesterday. I cannot tell you how much that annoyed me. the women who founded the march were not all supporters of Hillary Clinton. And yet, she thanked us, as if we—as if I, marched in support of her. as if my feminism necessarily included support of her. Even if she is a qualified candidate, it does not. Because I’m not okay with her or with a lot of what she represents.

I heard three chants yesterday:

My body my choice! /Her body her choice!

Show me what democracy looks like! /This is what democracy looks like!

We are the popular vote!

I heard a few protestors shouting “black lives matter” for a total of thirty seconds. I heard one woman and her two friends on the side of a road chanting something about Muslims. that was it. there was nothing about our Hispanic brothers and sisters, nothing that fueled anything but rainbows inside of me.

There were no arrests or any real police interference at these marches. That should make me feel good. But I know America, my love, and I know the arrests and the tear gas and the injustice that the marchers faced in black lives matter protests or those protests that our indigenous brothers and sisters faced as they were protesting the building of the Dakota access pipeline on their sacred lands. I know that if the majority of these protestors weren’t white women, protesting probably mostly because the now president is so overtly a misogynist... that there would have been arrests and there would have been problems and there would have been less pink and less smiles, and less support all around for the likes of us, and those far less privileged than we are.

But these are things I say to seem aware and “woke,” these aren’t things that even trouble my heart seriously. thinking about all of this isn’t even something that I do anymore. I cannot even feel anger properly. I can’t feel anything besides temporary pleasure.

I am all apathy. I am apathetic and disillusioned and privileged and I don’t know what to do about it, my dear.

This is the deep and dark underbelly of the American dream.

This apathy is what it survives on, this apathy and blindness is what fuels it, and what brings people like trump into power, and keeps other dictators in it.

Fight that apathy, sweetie, stay above it, and if you are drowning in it, like I am now, pray. Pray really hard, and surround yourself with people who hate injustice and who see it for what it is and who are not afraid to fight it.

I love you,

R.K.

 

FROM ASHES TO DUST

The face of the earth turns to dust,
But whom am I to say, who is to trust?
The gap grows larger between my feet,
The void, in my soul grows into a fleet
Institutionalised within by sordid fear,
I jump out of my cacophony existence, free-er.

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TEXT: MAGDA MAGDY

THE MAZE

 

The emptiness that is me cannot be filled with presence.
Cannot be satisfied with feelings.
Cannot be healed with tears,
Trails of smoke,
Or words.

The hollow existence of which I cease to be.
With nothing but the sounds of my waves of thoughts.
Crashing the walls of my mind.
The drops linger on my trembling hungry lips yet die young.

I am not what I once was.
I am not yet what I want to be.
I am stuck in a maze that I once thought was a straight line.
People that I once held on to left to find their way out.
and the longer I stay,
The more lost I get in the twists, twirls, and turns.

I am stuck.
I am trapped.
I am estranged.
Yet become familiar with the tiles and the cracks creeping up the seldom walls that are wrapped around me.
They never changed.
They never left.
And I start to wonder if I want to find my way back.

With nothing to lose,
I am empty. 
I am content.
And as close as I will ever be to happiness.

So I stop the race with time.
I stop running after the ghost of promises.
I plant my feet in the solid ground.
I dissolve in the paleness of the aging walls.

For the first time,
I stop.
I surrender.

 

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TEXT: DINA DIAB
ART: EMAN ALEGHFELI

هَجَرَ

اليوم يصادف السنة العاشرة على وجودي في المهجر، في المنفى. أن أرسم دائرة حول هذا التاريخ على كل تقويم سنوي منذ مغادرتي أمر غريب، أليس كذلك؟ ذكريات يومي رحيلي حية الآن، وتتراقص أمامي. 

 في اليوم الذي غادرت فيه كرهاً أو طوعاً -ما زلت غير متأكدٍ تماماً- خرجت وبدأت بالتجول في كل شارع، أردت أن أفتح ذاكرتي كمرطبان زجاجي عملاق، وأن أحمل داخله كل ما يقع نظري عليه. كانت الأشياء تنظر لي بشكل مختلف، كل الأشياء بلا استثناء. الشجرة العملاقة و القطط التي ترقد أسفلها وقت الظهيرة، بقالة أبو مازن والزبائن المتدافعين أمام بابها الضيق، مخبز علي الذي يجتمع عنده العشرات كل ليلة بلهجاتهم المختلفة لخبزه الفريد،  معمل عامر للنجارة والأخشاب التي ترقد منهكةً أمامه، أكوام القماش الملون بجانب حامد الخياط، أبواب البيوت المهجورة والأعشاب التي نمت داخل أقفالها، الشوارع غير المستوية، الغيوم التي تلتصق جنباً إلى جنب كالقطن، والرياح التي تستطيع أن تنفذ داخلي، جميعهم يغنون أنشودة الرحيل لي بعتب. 

تركتهم مترنحاً من ثقل رأسي ومن كثرة المشاهد التي تتكرر باستمرار داخله. لم تكن الحقيبة ثقيلة؛ فقد حملت سابقاً زاداً سيكفيني. حتى موظف الجوازات، الرجل التعيس الذي يختم بضراوة عليها، لسبب ما كانت نظرته حنونة. ”أبقى؟ أرحل؟“ تكررت الأسئلة، لكن كان لا بد من المضي، المضي دون التفات. ألقيت أثناء إقلاع الطيارة نظرة أخيرة على مدينتي، المدينة التي قبرت أحلامي وما زالت تحمل داخل أحشائها جزءاً مني. 

أرجعت رأسي للخلف، ثم نمت. 

 

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TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHY:
KHALED ALQAHTANI